Orisa was dreaming. And it was the strangest dream of her life.
Her body was in pain, which in itself was already bizarre and unbelievable. She wanted to wake up and see for herself what was going on and where this pain was coming from, but she could not. So she endured it while traveling through the grey mist that was her dream.
Sometime later, the thick fog that surrounded her was illuminated by a bright light. It shone like the sun, piercing her invisible body, cleansing the pain, and filling her soul with joy.
Orisa was dreaming.
The hazy world around her began to shake. Gradually, a noise came that she couldn't understand at first. But after some time, Orisa became confident that these were words, phrases, dialogues; they were muffled, silenced, almost indistinguishable, but she was sure of their nature:
Scraps of conversations flew past her several times when the shaking stopped. Every time Orisa heard another voice, she turned to the source and ran towards it but to no avail. The fog was everywhere.
Orisa was dreaming.
The mist around her began to shake again, but this time it was a monotonous swinging, supported by a quiet hammering sound.
Orisa was dreaming.
She lost all sense of time. How many hours had passed since she entered the fog? How many days or even weeks? Orisa wanted to wake up. She longed to see Tiana and know her conditions. She was worried about her friends fighting at the cave's entrance. Kanai, Iten, Onuki, Marina, Shou, and everyone else.
"Wake her up."
And Orisa woke up.
The fog around her drained as if someone turned on a giant fan that blew it away. Vision slowly returned to her eyes, and other senses followed shortly after.
Orisa was on her knees in the middle of a dark-brown room. She tried to stand up but found that her entire body was tightly shackled. Only her head was free to move.
There were people in front of her sitting behind a long table, and behind them on a small platform stood a tribune occupied by the Supreme Commander. He was glaring at her with eyes full of cold resentment.
"Secretary Undridge, proceed," announced the Supreme Commander with a cold voice that sent a blizzard down Orisa's spine.
"Yes, Commander. As was stated before, I will read the testimony of a sole witness of the assault."
The remnants of the fog inside Orisa's head cleared in an instant as a realization dawned upon her. She tried to scream, to voice her protests, but no word left her mouth despite them being wide open. A giant Seal was glowing brightly beneath her feet, draining Mana and silencing her voice.
The Secretary, a dry old gentleman in a pink dress, cleared his throat and began:
"The entire operation was planned by the woman in question. She led the raid towards a secluded area, knowing full well its layout from previous operations. By her choosing the squad was divided, making it easier to carry her horrible deed. Abusing the trust she earned from Lady Kavenfenn, the woman lured her deeper into the cave. She also manipulated the Wavespawn to follow the three of us, creating a sense of fear and dread to make us comply with her scheme. She proceeded to trap us inside a narrow crack, threatening our very lives. When Beasts she lured began their attack, the woman mixed one of her devious spells among their offensive and conjured the explosion which led to Lady Kavenfenn's injury. While the woman was meddling with the Lady, I managed to fend off the creatures, but it was too late. I begged her to stop, but she unleashed an unknown spell that I failed to block completely, and it hit Lady Kavenfenn, leaving an unknown effect that disallowed all my healing efforts. While basking in her success, the women became distracted. I used this chance to attack and knock her down. It was a miracle that I carried a Tamer's cuff on me this time, planning to procure a Wavespawn for the Division's study. I used the cuff to restrain her."
A deafening silence came upon the room. People were exchanging glances, looking into papers, or staring at her silently.
'No... No... No! NO! IT'S A LIE! DON'T LISTEN TO IT!'
Orisa was screaming internally, but nobody could hear her thoughts.
"Thank you, Secretary Undridge. The situation is apparent," the Supreme Commander shattered the silence with his cold voice.
"I must say, the testimony contradicts the profile I'm reading right now," carefully voiced his opinion a chunky bald man with an enormous mustache.
"Are you, by chance, doubting the words of your own daughter, Mace vi Durek?" asked Commander calmly, but his voice contained a barely disguised threat.
"What I am thinking right now is that my daughter might have been in a shock due to the event's nature, and that-."
"I think you should consider your words carefully, Mace, as a father of a young promising child and as a head of a Lesser House. Setting family matters aside, the testimony coincides with the profile perfectly. A vile and aggressive nature was made apparent during the woman's days in the Training Camp."
"Are you talking about the incident with your new wife, Commander?" Mace vi Durek tried to imply the Commander's personal interest by nodding towards the side area of the room.
Orisa followed the direction and turned pale. Her body instantly covered with sweat. In the corner of the room sat Mira Rahna in all her gorgeous beauty. She had been staring at Orisa all this time, and her eyes were full of triumph. She was gloating, basking at the moment, constantly licking her lips in excitement.
'This was your doing? That's how you are going to strike me back?' Orisa thought. Emotions were slowly draining from her, leaving her empty and resigned to her fate. She understood all too well where this was going.
"There were other incidents as well, and in abundance," the Commander cut off Mace's implications with a sharp voice.
"Shouldn't we listen to the testimony of the defendant?" another man on the far side of the table asked out loud.
"Unnecessary. This vile creature will deny any accusations, of course. In the end, it will be the woman's word against the word of Ramulie vi Durek. And we know all too well who is more trustworthy."
"Commander, we are merely concerned with the fact that you are too involved with this process. Well, personally."
"This is not the first, nor would it be the last hearing on such a matter. We did the same in the past, and we will carry on in the same manner in the future. My personal involvement in the case provides no obstruction to the process, and my daughter being the victim is unrelated to the hearing. I’m only doing my job here."
"Speaking of your daughter," the same man tried his last straw, "can we hear her testimony?"
"She appears to be in a coma and shows no signs of recovery," the Commander answered dryly.
Orisa's heart sunk, and excruciating pain pierced her chest. 'No... please... Tiana, not you! Please!' Tears poured down her cheeks as she tried to scream.
"Our best healers gave up on her condition after a deep analysis," he continued, ignoring Orisa's silent outburst. "Whatever it was that the woman here performed, it made the damage to my daughter permanent."
"I see... my condolence, Commander."
"Thank you, admiral. I think we have enough data to conclude this hearing. Let us proceed with voting. Those who judge the woman guilty, raise your hand."
Ten out of fifteen people simultaneously and eagerly raised their hands. The remaining five were showing clear distress and regret on their faces, and Orisa even heard one of them saying: "I wish we could help this poor soul somehow."
"We judge the woman here guilty," calmly announced the Supreme Commander. "A verdict here is obvious as well. Secretary, proceed with the preparations, please. We will handle the execution as soon as you are ready."
"Yes, Commander. Guards, take the convict away. The hearing is now closed."
Mace vi Durek abruptly stood and stormed out of the room.
Four men surrounded Orisa and locked metal bracelets on her wrists and ankles. Each of them glowed, showing the same Seal that was placed beneath Orisa's feet. The guards raised her in the air and carried towards the exit.
In the corner of her vision, Orisa noticed Mira. The girl was almost drooling, as her eyes were shining with bright excitement, she followed Orisa with her gaze. Triumph radiated from her figure.
Several minutes later, the guards arrived at the prison block's upper level and to the cell with a heavy metal door.
"We don't need to unshackle her, right?" asked one of the guards in a tired voice. "In an hour or two we'll have to carry her back anyway."
"Sure thing, just throw her inside, and that's it."
They carried a shackled Orisa into the dark cell and put her on a cold stone floor. Three men left the cell, but one of them turned and went towards the small barred window.
"Miha, what are you doing here? Hurry up, or I'm closing the door!"
"Want to check the window, you know, just in case something goes wrong. We don't want an angry Supreme Commander on our heads, right?"
"The hell are you talking about, man? She is cuffed and sealed tight."
"Just let me do my job properly for once, would you? It's a procedure anyway, so shut your trap!"
The guard proceeded to check the bars on the window and even stretched his hand outside to inspect the wall's outer surface. Orisa didn't pay much attention to his actions. They closed the door with a loud metallic bang, and Orisa was left alone in a cold dark room. The only source of light was a tiny barred window on the far side of the room. It was so small that even if there were no bars, Orisa would barely fit in there.
The rain kept pouring monotonously, and Orisa slowly fell into a trance.
'Why me... This is unfair... Tiana, god, please... Mira, you bitch... Why... Save me... Kanai... Tiana... Mirai... no, please...'
An unknown amount of time had passed before a loud bang of lightning got Orisa back to her senses. Her body was all sore because of the shackles, and she couldn't move anything besides her head, even lift a finger or shake her feet. Another flash of lightning threw Orisa into panic:
'No! No! It can't end like that. Why me!? What's wrong with this world? What the hell!? They'll save me. They'll definitely save me. It cannot end like this. They'll save me. They'll come up with something. They won't let me die. It's not true. Not possible. They'll save me.
They'll save me.
They'll save me.
They'll save me.
Swallowed by despair, Orisa began to wail silently. Tears streamed down her hung head right into an open mouth. She recalled everything that happened to her. Every unfair and horrible thing that happened to her in a short span of two months crushed her spirit. She could no longer stomach it.
Orisa only wanted everything to end.
When she noticed something was going on, a mechanism inside the window was almost finished. A hand appeared from the outside, carrying another metal part. It installed the part and fixed it with a screwdriver. A thin metal frame was constructed inside the window, and after a muffled click a familiar luminous screen formed inside the frame, a matter displacement gate. A moment later, a short figure crawled through the gate and dropped on the floor, water dripping from its raincoat. Swiftly moving to the shackled Orisa, the person procured another instrument from underneath their coat and proceeded to unlock the shackles.
Orisa tried to ask questions, but her voice was still blocked. Noticing her attempt, the person removed their hood and whispered:
"Time is of the essence for now. The Seals will be removed at a later date, my friend. We should hurry up and take our leave."
Orisa stared in disbelief. In front of her was standing Toatre radiating her usual otherworldly aura. Orisa tried to stand up and hug the girl, but her body was so stiff after spending several hours in a shackled state on a cold floor that she dropped on the floor instead.
"Here, drink this pill. It should speed your recovery. Or at least that was what others told me," Toatre bent down and handed Orisa a brownish pill and a small vial with a Stamina Potion. Wolfing the pill and washing it down with the potion, Orisa let out a sight. Her body began to shake, pierced by a thousand needles. Luckily, the Seals prevented her from screaming.
After a minute of agony, Orisa finally stood up and hugged the girl in front of her so tight that a normal person would end up with cracked ribs.
"A pleasure to meet you again, my friend. Although, I'm left wishing for it to have happened under different circumstances. But no more stalling, we must make haste. You need to exit through the gate. Be careful on the other side."
Orisa nodded, kissed Toatre's forehead, and began to crawl outside. When her upper half made it through the gate, she almost dropped back, scared to death. On the outer side of the wall, a narrow platform was waiting for her, mounted into the wall. Beneath it was emptiness.
Orisa's cell was inside a tower, and now at least ten floors of nothingness and rain were waiting for her beneath the thin metal plate. Finally, the Stamina Potion kicked in and made Orisa's fear yield a bit by returning her former strength. She carefully crawled outside, immediately drenched in the rain. Toatre followed a moment later, skillfully dismantled the gate, and loaded the parts into her backpack, then told Orisa:
"I need to remove the footing as well. Hold onto the bars."
After some manipulations, the platform folded into a nice little tube and disappeared inside Toatre's backpack as well. Only two narrow holes beneath the window reminded that something was there several moments ago.
Without further ado, Toatre climbed on Orisa's back, hugged her tightly using both arms and legs, and said:
"I said, jump."
"Down. Isn't it obvious, Orisa?"
It wasn't as if Orisa doubted Toatre, but the girl had her strange moments. What If it was her dream to perform a double suicide?
"We are out of time. What are you waiting for?"
Breathing in a handful of cold and wet air, Orisa let go of the bars and kicked off the wall. The moment her feet left the stone, Toatre chanted:
A purple circle appeared around the pair for a second, replacing them with a strange creature right away. Toatre's Meta form looked like a hybrid of fox and squirrel, but the most bizarre thing about its appearance was its back where two pairs of wings were folded.
Orisa felt strange. It was as if somebody put her inside a box and placed a monitor in front of her face. The sounds were muffled and unclear, and her vision blurry and unfocused.
Toatre unfolded her wings and began to glide through the air. The rain quickly wetted her fur, so their flight turned more into a controlled fall, but they landed safely on one of the roofs. Only now Orisa noticed that it was almost evening. The visibility was quite poor because of the time and a rainy weather, letting Toatre freely jump from one roof to another unnoticed.
The metamorph made her way towards the Slumps, and after jumping into a secluded alleyway, undid the transformation. Without letting Orisa catch a breath, Toatre grabbed her hand and pulled down the path and into one of the buildings. When they were inside, she moved a heavy wardrobe to the side, revealing a matter displacement gate. Orisa stepped into a dusty but well-illuminated room and was greeted by Iten, Onuki, and a bald man with a mustache she saw during the hearing, Mace vi Durek.
"I'm glad we made it on time, Orisa," Iten said with a smile.
"It's good to..."
Onuki tried to say something, but emotions overcame her, and she silently hugged Orisa with a mixture of fear, relief, and regret on her face.
"I need your hands and legs now," said Toatre and took out more instruments.
Orisa obediently sat on the floor, stretching her limbs and entrusting them to Toatre. Her friends took a few steps back, letting the man behind them forwards.
"I thought much about ways to deliver my feelings to you, but I'm not sure if I will be able to. Despite that let me say this: I'm so sorry for all the troubles my children brought upon you."
Mace vi Durek got on his knees and bowed down in front of Orisa, hitting the floor with his forehead.
"I'm so ashamed of them and myself! I'm so sorry!" Orisa heard the man's cry, and his shoulders began to shudder. "I know it's inexcusable, but I have almost no influence over them now. And even during the hearing, I was completely powerless, too. I'm so sorry!"
Orisa couldn't talk yet because of the Seals, so she tapped Mace on the shoulder, urging him to look up. When she saw his red face and eyes full of tears and burning with regret, his feelings reached her. She grabbed both his shoulders and firmly shook her head.
"I'm sure this hopeless person wants to know what happened," suddenly said Onuki with a sad grin.
"I see. Sure, it is the least I can do for now," Mace sat on the floor and proceeded to explain his part.
Mace vi Durek was the head of the family only in name. His wife held most of the power and influence over the family matters, including their children. It was her views that turned most of their offspring into a hateful and arrogant bunch. The youngest, Bassa and Ramulie, were no exceptions. Mace knew all too well about their worldview, and when the news came about the incident, he was almost sure that it was his daughter's doing. He questioned her harshly and even used some force to make her talk, getting a confession in the end. However, neither the Supreme Commander nor the Secretary were interested in his speech. Commander openly hinted at the consequences of Mace intervention, forcing him to shut up.
He despaired, hating injustice more than anything in his life, but suddenly an unknown man contacted him, offering a way to set things right.
"That's how I came into contact with these wonderful people here," Mace finished his speech.
With a loud click, the last bracelet came undone, and Orisa felt her strength return to her. She thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of Mana resuming its flow inside her body. After probing her voice, Orisa said to Mace:
"You are a good man, Mace vi Durek. It's a shame about your family, though. I-."
"Orisa, we actually don't have time for this," interjected Iten worriedly. "You need to dress up and leave now."
"Oh, sure, sorry. What's the plan?"
"First, change into your gear, I'll explain the rest," Iten handed Orisa her combat gear and turned around to face the opposite direction. Mace vi Durek did the same, while Toatre and Onuki proceeded to pack some more items inside an already enormous bag.
"Toatre will get you out of the city where Kanai is waiting for you. Together, you'll escape on horses. In fact, that's the end of things, for now, we haven't planned anything more."
"That's plenty already. I can't thank you enough for this, guys, I..." The despair that Orisa felt inside the cell was slowly returning. The dread made her throat dry, and her legs began to shake.
"Don't worry, everything is fine. You are safe now," Onuki squeezed Orisa's palm, reading her mood like an open book.
"You don't need to thank us, right?" added Iten with a chuckle.
"Right..." Orisa mumbled, calming down a little. She swiftly changed into her outdoor gear and turned to ask, "but how did you end up together? Who organized everything?"
"No time for that now. You need to go. Kanai will explain everything," urged her Iten. He handed Orisa her backpack and pushed towards the exit.
"Iten, wait. One last thing. I'm sorry to be this demanding right after you all saved me, but I need you to promise me one thing, okay?"
"I'll get to Tiana and see what we can do," he answered and shook his head in understanding.
"You are the best! Thank you! And I hope to see you all again."
Orisa hugged him and kissed his cheek, then turned to Onuki and did the same, making the girl pale and blush at the same time. They shook hands with Mace, and she left the hideout right after Toatre.
It was already dark outside. They returned to the same alleyway, and Toatre embraced Orisa before turning into her Meta form. They jumped from one roof to another, making their way towards the city walls. Without lowering her speed, Toatre jumped onto the wall and sunk her claws into the stone. Using both pairs of wings, she made a jump upwards before clutching to the stone again. The same motion was used again and again before they finally made it atop the walls.
'That's how she made it to the window,' Orisa finally understood how important Toatre's participation was. The girl was both a Metamorph and a skilled engineer. ‘And maybe something more as well. Always on top, a prodigy in every aspect. Gosh.'
Thanks to the rain, the patrols on the walls were scarce, so they easily got to the other side and descended on Toatre's wings. After that was a mad dash towards the road and away from the city. They ran for at least fifteen minutes before Toatre went down a barely visible path leading into the forest.
Half a minute later, they entered a small cavern under a hill where an unpleasant picture met them. Two horses lay on the ground, shredded to pieces and turned into bloody mincemeat. Several meters deeper into the cavern lay a corpse of a Beast, already half dissolved. And Kanai sat on the ground, resting his back on a giant backpack. Toatre undid the transformation; she looked rather unwell. 'Assuming it's her third morph, she is exhausted, to say the least.'
"I think you can guess what happened here," muttered Kanai in a guilty tone.
"It's important that you are alright, bro! I'm so glad to see you," said Orisa happily, but internally, she felt distressed. 'Why nothing can go right when I'm a part of it?' she thought. Dread began to crawl back, taking hold of her insides.
"Yes, sorry. You are right. I'm glad to see you well, too," Kanai muttered and got back on his feet.
"What do you plan to do now without the horses?" Toatre asked. She sat on the floor and took out a bottle of water, washing down a pill. A sandwich appeared in her hand a moment later.
"Move on foot, of course. We can't stay here. Dippo said it's a known spot."
"Dippo? He is on board?" Orisa sounded shocked.
"You won't believe it, but he organized everything himself," Kanai sounded surprised as well. He stood up, nodded to the backpack, and continued, "I don't think we'll be able to carry everything on foot. So if you are okay with sharing the same tent, we should drop the second one here."
"What do you mean sharing? I'm going alone."
"Don't be an idiot, please. We don't have time for another of your pointless sacrifices. I'm coming with you, and that's it."
"Kanai, you don't have to..."
"And you don't have to be so stubborn," he said angrily.
"I'm going back now and suggest you leave as well." Toatre stood up and moved towards the exit.
"Toatre, wait!" Orisa stepped after the girl and hugged her. "Thank you so much for helping me. And I was extremely glad to see you again."
"The feeling is mutual, Orisa. Let's meet next time in a more pleasant situation."
"You are absolutely correct, my dear."
With that, Toatre stepped outside and walked away into the rain. Orisa looked at the girl's silhouette disappear into the dark, and the thoughts she had been pushing all this time began to crawl back to her.
"We should move out as well," Kanai elbowed Orisa.
"Give me a few moments, please..."
She leaned her back against a cold rock of the cave and slowly slid down.
'...We judge the woman here guilty...'
'...She appears to be in a coma and shows no signs of recovery...'
'...We will handle the execution as soon as you are ready...'
'...We will handle the execution...'
Orisa hugged her knees and dropped the head down, hiding her face. The cold stone sucked away the heat of her body, and despair filled her insides.
'...in a coma...'
"Orisa, are you OK?" Kanai asked worriedly, but Orisa only nodded quietly.
Knowing her well, Kanai put his backpack on the ground and came closer to the girl. He sat by her side and hugged her shoulders with his left hand.
"Orisa, are you OK?" He repeated the same question, this time adding more pressure to his voice.
The girl in question slowly shook her head.
After a few seconds, her body began to tremble, and she burst into tears.
Book 2: Path of Exile.